Pakistan: Fast bowler Mohammad Amir came agonizingly close to a hat trick in his return to domestic cricket on Friday after a ban of four and a half years.
Amir had opening batsman Naved Malik and Ali Sarfraz caught off successive deliveries in his fourth over of a grade-two match, one level below first-class cricket. He missed the hat trick when he bowled down the legside to No. 4 batsman Mohammad Irfan.
He still took three wickets in his first six-over spell at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, conceding 23 runs. However, his second spell was ineffective as the left-armer was smashed for 31 runs in three overs without success. In all, Amir took 3-73 off 16 overs.
"I always try to make batsmen play as much as possible," he said. "I am trying to give 100 percent, but to be honest with you, it's not easy after all these years. It's like starting from zero."
Amir was banned from all cricket after pleading guilty in 2010 to charges of bowling deliberate no-balls at pre-arranged times to fix spot betting markets, while playing for Pakistan in a test against England at Lord's.
The International Cricket Council shortened his five-year ban in January, for his cooperation with its anti-corruption and security unit.
The 22-year-old Amir made a delayed return when his match last Tuesday was washed out. He's playing for Omar Associates in the three-day Patron's Trophy.
"Four and a half years ago I was at my peak, and I can't get back those years," Amir said. "But as a Muslim, I believe there's always a lesson in life. I can't rewind those years but I should avail what time I have ahead of me."
He has at least two more three-day matches in the tournament, then plans to play in a domestic T20 tournament next month.
"I delivered 90 percent of my deliveries where I wanted to. The inswingers which were there in 2009 are still coming up nicely," he added with a broad smile.
Amir has received a mixed response about his international future. Former Pakistan board chairman Tauqir Zia and ex-captain Ramiz Raja say he shouldn't represent Pakistan again because he's tainted.
But Amir seems to be unruffled by the critics. He has set his sights on making Pakistan's series against India in December.
"Who doesn't want to play against India?" Amir said. "It's a dream of every Pakistani cricketer to play against India, and my aim is to give performances, stay fit, and get selected."
He was considered Pakistan's next great bowler, having taken 51 wickets in 14 tests at an average of 29.09, and 25 wickets in 15 one-day internationals at an average of 24. He also had 23 wickets in 18 Twenty20s.
Sabih Azhar, the coach of Rawalpindi Rams, for whom Amir will play in the T20 tournament next month, supported Amir's return.
"He certainly deserves one more chance," Azhar told The Associated Press after watching Amir from the boundary line at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium. "He's ready for international cricket, and his body language clearly tells you that he's hungry to do well for Pakistan."